Day: 23 April 2021

‘No Jab, No Job’: Can Healthcare Staff be Coerced Into Getting Vaccinated?

We’re publishing an original piece today by Dr Niall McCrae, a mental health practitioner and trade union rep, about what health care workers can do to resist if they’re told by their employers that they have to have a Covid vaccine as a condition of continuing to be employed. He says there are three areas in which they can push back: proportionality, safety and equity. Here’s an extract from the section on equity:

The employer should not engage in discriminatory practice. If a vaccine requirement is introduced, the first task of the worker is to check her employment contract: does it give the employer the right to impose medical interventions on staff? For any change of contract, both parties would need to agree and sign. If summoned to a meeting, the worker should ask the manager to confirm the employer’s position:

* If an employee has a legitimate reason to refuse the vaccine, will this be accepted?
* If the employer demands that an employee takes the vaccine against her will, under threat of dismissal, would that be coercion (and breach of contract)?

The employer/manager may believe that vaccines can be mandated, but this is not necessarily so. While the Government is considering changing the law to enable employers to insist on vaccination of care staff working with vulnerable people, under current legislation this could be deemed unlawful. Compulsion could be experienced as intrusive or bullying. Also, it is arguably discriminatory in terms of sex and race, as women and workers of black/minority ethnicity are disproportionately affected by mandatory vaccination policies.

Worth reading in full.

E.U. Orders 1.8 Billion Doses of Pfizer’s Covid Vaccine

The E.U. will soon seal its rejection of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine by signing off on the world’s biggest vaccine deal yet, buying up to 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine to last until 2023. The Telegraph has the story.

The vaccines from the U.S. drugmaker and its German partner BioNTech would be delivered over 2021-2023, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit to Pfizer’s vaccine plant in Puurs, Belgium.

The agreement would be enough to inoculate the 450 million E.U. population for two years and comes as the bloc seeks to shore up long-term supplies.

This is the third contract agreed by the bloc with the two companies, which have already agreed to supply 600 million doses of the two-dose vaccine this year under two previous contracts.

European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday that the E.U. will have enough to inoculate at least 70% of E.U. adults by the end of July.

The E.U. Chief had previously set a goal of late September.

An E.U. official said the supply deal was agreed in principle but that both sides needed a few days to iron out final terms.

“We will conclude in the next days. It will secure the doses necessary to give booster shots to increase immunity,” Ms von der Leyen said at a briefing at the Puurs factory.

Pfizer has scrambled to boost output in recent months at its U.S. and Belgian plants to meet growing demand.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Puurs is expected to have the capacity to produce more than 100 million doses by May.

A new study by Oxford University and the ONS has found that one dose of the Pfizer vaccine reduces Covid infections by 65%. The same is true of the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to the study, but many European countries have come to distrust the vaccine because of its link to blood clots (the risk of which has been upgraded in the past two weeks). Thirty three per cent of Danes would refuse to take the AZ vaccine, according to a survey, while in Sicily the refusal rate is said to be closer to 80%. On top of concerns about cases of blood clotting, the European Commission has criticised AstraZeneca for cutting its vaccine deliveries to the bloc and is now preparing legal proceedings against the drugmaker, according to reports. The E.U.’s contract with AZ included 400 million doses of the Covid vaccine, 100 million of which were optional. The bloc, which has tightened its bond with Pfizer, has decided against taking this option up.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.

Wales Will be Reopening Ahead of Schedule – Based on Data, Not Dates

Welsh hospitality business will soon be able to reopen – outdoors from April 26th and indoors from May 17th – as Mark Drakeford has accelerated Wales’s reopening schedule. The Telegraph has the story.

Pubs, restaurants, cafes and other hospitality businesses will be allowed to offer outdoor service again from Monday, April 26th, as restrictions are eased further in Wales. 

In addition, from April 24th, six people from six households will be able to meet outdoors, but meeting inside will not be allowed until May 3rd, when two households will be allowed to see each other indoors.

It comes as the reopening of gyms and leisure centres, and outdoor organised activities, has also been brought forward to May 3rd amid a drop in new Covid infections.

Indoor activities for children, indoor organised activities for up to 15 adults, such as exercise classes, and the reopening of community centres were also meant to happen on May 17th, but have been brought forward by two weeks.

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, also said indoor hospitality and all tourism accommodation can reopen from May 17th, subject to confirmation by the party that leads the Welsh Government following the Senedd election.

Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio 5 Live that the improving Covid and vaccine situations in Wales meant an acceleration of the country’s exit from lockdown was possible.

The rates of coronavirus in Wales are now the lowest in the United Kingdom, our vaccination rates are the highest in the United Kingdom, and that has created some extra headroom for us to be able to continue what we’ve been doing now for quite a few cycles.

We continue to proceed in Wales in a cautious, step-by-step way. But the fact that we have these low rates is the product of that way of doing things.

It’s because we’ve done it in the way we have that we’re now able to accelerate some of the decisions because the prevalence of coronavirus has fallen to the lowest extent we’ve seen since the summer.

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, remains unconvinced that England’s unlock should be speeded up. Covid cases and hospitalisations continue to fall in England and the successful vaccine rollout means that 95% of the over-50s – that is, those who are most vulnerable to Covid – have been vaccinated. Despite this, ministers have suggested that the current level of lockdown could stay in place beyond May 17th.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Blower’s latest cartoon in the Telegraph demonstrates the foolishness of Boris and co sticking to dates not data.

Over 20,000 Children Have Disappeared From School Rolls

More than 75,000 children are being educated from home – almost a 40% increase from last year’s figure – with over 20,000 children having fallen off the school roll over the past year due largely to health concerns relating to Covid. MailOnline has the story.

An estimated 75,668 children and young people are being home educated across England, according to figures gathered on the first school census day of the 2020/21 academic year.

This represents an increase of some 38% from the year before – with parents citing “health concerns relating to Covid” as the main reason for keeping their children at home. 

But it comes amid fears that vulnerable children are falling through the gaps. 

The Chief Inspector of schools in England, Amanda Spielman, said the figures were “concerning”.   

According to a report by The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), some 75,668 children and young people are being home educated across all 151 local authorities in England this year. 

The ADCS estimates that a staggering 19,510 students were taken off the school roll in September alone.

The largest increase in the number of electively home educated children and young people from 2019 was among children aged 7-11 in Key Stage 2 (6,427) followed by some 4,750 in Key Stage 3 (aged 11-14).

The largest percentage increase since 2019 was in the early years (85%). 

Internationally, the picture is even grimmer. A report by UNICEF published earlier this month found that 800 million children across the world are still not fully back in classes as schools remain closed or are only offering a mix of remote and in-person learning in at least 90 countries.

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Fraser Nelson has written about the disappearance of tens of thousands of children from the school roll in his Telegraph column today.

Official: Covid Pandemic Over in Britain

With the ONS reporting today that the number of people infected with COVID-19 in England has fallen to its lowest level since September, researchers at Oxford have said the vaccines are so effective that the UK is no longer in the midst of a pandemic. Sarah Knapton, Science Editor of the Telegraph, has more.

In the first large real-world study of the impact of vaccination on the general population, researchers found that the rollout is having a major impact on cutting both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases.

Sarah Walker, Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at Oxford and Chief Investigator on the Office for National Statistics COVID-19 Infection Survey, said that Britain had “moved from a pandemic to an endemic situation” where the virus is circulating at a low, largely controllable level in the community.

The new research, based on throat swabs from 373,402 people between December 1st last year and April 3rd, found three weeks after one dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jab, symptomatic infections fell by 74% and infections without symptoms by 57%.

By two doses, asymptomatic infections were down 70% and symptomatic by 90%.

It comes as infections continue to fall in Britain, dropping 7% in a week, despite the reopening of schools and shops. Deaths have also fallen by 26% and admissions by 19% over the last seven days.

New data from the ONS also showed that Covid was no longer the leading cause of death in March, falling behind dementia and heart disease, for the first time since October.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Just 6% of beds are now taken up by Covid patients at England’s busiest NHS Trust compared to 60% at peak of second wave, an analysis of NHS data by MailOnline shows.

Students Appeal to Competition and Markets Authority Over Tuition Fees

Students’ unions have told the competitions watchdog that they have been “mis-sold” degrees as they demand blanket tuition fee refunds. Camilla Turner, the Telegraph‘s Education Correspondent, has the story.

A group of students’ unions have written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), urging it to “take action to uphold students’ rights” over tuition fees and rent payments amid the pandemic.

The open letter, backed by student leaders at 19 universities across the UK, calls on the regulator to help students asking for blanket fee refunds as a result of COVID-19 disruption.

It urges the regulator to “explain to students how they can prove that the ‘quality’ of their course has not met the required standards for full tuition”.

The letter goes on to say: “Nobody understands what the Government means by poor quality courses, and the language seems to blame the academics delivering courses for lost education when it is the unavoidable result of the pandemic and ‘blended learning’ being mis-sold by universities.”

The student representative also asked the CMA to address the “broken” complaints process for students claiming refunds, and help advise students on their ability to withhold fee payments “if they have lost out” due to the pandemic.

The letter, which has been signed by students leaders from Oxford, Cambridge and a number of other Russell Group universities, says: “Students need an external organisation with no vested interest other than upholding students’ rights to step in and give them the power to seek collective fee justice.

The CMA must act now.” The plea came after the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed that all remaining students in England will not be allowed to return to in-person lessons on campus until mid-May at the earliest.

Most students in England, apart from those on critical courses, were told not to return to campus as part of the lockdown announced in January.

It is estimated that around half of university students in England are not eligible to return to campus for in-person teaching until May 17th at the earliest.

Worth reading in full.

12 Year-Olds to Be Given Covid Vaccines from September

Children as young as 12 will be given Covid vaccines when they return to school after summer, according to leaked “core planning” documents. Even younger children could be vaccinated shortly afterwards, with Oxford University’s ongoing child vaccine study testing the AstraZeneca jab on 300 children aged six to 17. The Government reportedly wants to vaccinate the young to help the nation avoid a third wave of Covid infections. MailOnline has the story.

Children as young as 12 will get their coronavirus vaccines from September as the Government tries to avoid a third wave, reports say…

There are also reportedly plans for Britons over 50 to be given booster jabs in the autumn amid fears over Covid variants sweeping Europe…

A source told the Sun: “Plans are in place to vaccinate children aged 12 upwards, and senior Government officials have been briefed.

“Though controversial, it is deemed necessary to stop the U.K. regressing in its remarkable fight against Covid.”

Health officials are also said to be looking into jabbing children as young as five from July in a “worst-case scenario”.

The leaked report shows the Government’s contingency plan if the roadmap out of lockdown this summer leads to a surge in variants…

The Department of Health said no decision has been taken, adding: “We will be guided by experts once clinical trials have concluded.”

This comes in spite of the low risk presented by Covid to young people (as few as 14 people under the age of 20 in England and Wales have died of Covid in 2021) and the fact that a large proportion of those who are vulnerable – whom the Government fears young people could infect – have been vaccinated. (More than 11 million people have now received two doses of a Covid vaccine and 95% of over-50s have been vaccinated.)

Last month, Sean O’Grady, the Associate Editor of the Independent, said that the vaccination of the young should be mandatory.

I would vaccinate every child old enough to receive it, as a condition of receiving a state education. …

Of course, in the end, we do not want to live in a country where gangs of officials grab unvaccinated children or adults, wrestle them to the ground and forcibly inject them. But we do want to live in a country where rights are balanced by responsibilities, and where mutual obligations need to be fulfilled. 

Incentives and penalties, taxes and fines, court orders and conditions of employment – restrictions on liberty – are commonplace in our daily lives; for the protection of the community as a whole. If we want to drive the wrong way down a motorway, then there are legal consequences for doing so.

Meanwhile, the reported risk of suffering from blood clots after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine (Britain’s primary Covid vaccine) has doubled in a fortnight, according to new data from the Medical Healthcare products and Regulatory Agency. The European Medicines Agency has also said that a warning about blood clots should be added to labels for the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine, which is likely to be approved for use in the U.K. in the coming weeks. Dr Alan Mordue, a retired public health consultant, recently wrote for Lockdown Sceptics that “the potential benefits [of vaccination] may not be justified by the potential risks” for people under the age of 50.

The Mail’s report is worth reading in full.

News Round Up